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Farriery dates back as far as Roman times and though the craft may have originated at a time when horses were a key form of transport, the skills are just as important today. The rising interest in equestrianism as a leisure activity has not only increased the need for expert craftsmen and women but also attracted a new generation to the traditional industry.
Oatridge College specialises in providing the education necessary for work in rural industries and runs an Entry to Farriery Certificate course. Students on this course learn many topics such as forge work, welding and horse handling.
David Newall is a successful farrier who started his career at the college. He explained how it takes six years to become fully qualified and the how the Entry to Farriery Certificate offered at Oatridge is the first step of it.
“I’ve been working for myself now for eight years,” he said. “After I finished school I went to do a pre-farriery course, it’s a year’s full-time course that they do here at Oatridge College.
“Through that I gained an apprenticeship in farriery, I was up in Cupar, which is in Fife. I worked up there for five years and served my time through my apprenticeship. After that I came back down to Linlithgow and I’ve been working for myself since then.”
David explained how the profession had changed over time. With the introduction of portable equipment, the workshop is a thing of the past and he now operates a mobile business.
“Fifty or sixty years ago, the farrier probably worked in the workshop, there was a smiddy in every town. Modern farriery is slightly different,” he said.
“It’s generally mobile, most farriers are working out of their van. They’ve got a gas forge and anvil, all your stock and shoes are in your van and you’re shoeing horses on-site.”
David admitted that farriery had been male-dominated in the past but that more and more girls were training for a career by undertaking the pre-farriery course. One of those students is Beth McWilliams, who explained what attracted her to the job.
“I just have a love of horses and I’ve worked with them since a very young age,” she said. “I really enjoy learning new skills, like forge working.
“It’s quite a traditional craft, and carrying it on and encouraging other people to do it is quite a good thing. “
What was once a tradition passed down from father to son is now a regulated industry with a formal apprenticeship scheme. With demand for skilled farriers still very much in evidence, and interest in the trade from a new generation, the craft looks to be set to survive for many years to come.